Grace Notes
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Grace Notes

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  449 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The award-winning Grace Notes is a compact and altogether masterful portrait of a woman composer and the complex interplay between her life and her art. With superb artistry and startling intimacy, it brings us into the life of Catherine McKenna — estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother, and musician making her mark in a male-dominated field. It is a book that the Virg...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 17th 1998 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 1997)
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Non-Winners of the Man Booker
95th out of 191 books — 130 voters
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180th out of 199 books — 105 voters


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Cynthia
Catherine is an Irish woman who is musical. Her parents notice her talent when she’s young and find her a wonderful teacher. She becomes a pianist and a composer. Unfortunately Catherine’s parents also share their conflicted relationship and throw in some Catholic angst. MacLaverty got the musical bits exactly right in my opinion. Music is hard to describe in words yet he did so with excellence. There were several pieces I’d never heard of before and based on his descriptions I’m going to search...more
Krista
Ever wonder how a musician composes? From whence the inspiration comes? This novel offers a glimpse, even as it also narrates the professional and personal challenges of being a (post)modern woman. A lovely, honest, intensely real portrait that ponders questions of life, religion, and art -- particularly the question of where redemption is found... or perhaps created.
Tony
GRACE NOTES. (1997). Bernard MacLaverty. ****.
I just discovered this writer. That’s like discovering America in 1493: probably the rest of the world already knew about him. This novel, short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1997, started out to be the best I’d read in a long time, but somehow got lost along the way. It’s the story of Catherine Anne McKenna, a young woman from Northern Ireland who leaves to pursue her dream of becoming a composer – a field famous for its scarcity of women. We firs...more
Cynthia
Jul 09, 2009 Cynthia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cynthia by: Joe Geha
One of those books where you keep saying, "This was written by a MAN?" The portrait of Catherine McKenna, composer, shows the ways her art intersects with the rest of her life. The author knows a lot about post-partum depression and music.
Merilee
Stunning so far.


This book, about a young, Irish composer who mainly lives on an island off Scotland, is absolutely pitch-perfect. I kept having to remind myself that the female narrator was written by a man.
Elaine
I am always skeptical when a male author has a woman protagonist -- and in this case, a woman protagonist who goes through childbirth. But darn if MacLaverty didn't pull it off so well that I had to go back and check that the author really was a man. He captures the relationship between Ireland and Scotland so well, and between the Scottish isles and the mainland cities. I only wished I knew more about musical composition, so I could have followed the protagonist's musical work (composing and pl...more
Susan
Lately I've been turned off by Irish novels about dysfunctional families. Last year I read both The Secret Scripture and The Gathering and felt like both were "same old same old". Not bad but not original either. (The ending of the former was an exception but it was the worst part.)

But I really liked Grace Notes. MacLaverty, as Colum McCann's Brooklyn which I also enjoyed, writes from the point of view of a female character and does it well.

The main character is Catherine who is a serious and s...more
Beth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susana Pereira
A estrutura do livro é original e algo estranha: o livro foi dividido em duas partes, mas a segunda vem antes da primeira em termos cronológicos. Não sei o motivo do autor, mas acho que assim saímos da leitura um pouco mais optimistas, porque a cena final é revigorante e a primeira parte anda à volta de acontecimentos um pouco mais deprimentes. De qualquer maneira, no final não pude deixar de dar uma espreitadela a algumas passagens da primeira parte de modo a poder vê-las sob uma perspectiva di...more
Clive Thompson
I am male and I am drawn to books written by males as I feel I will be able to relate to them easier and this was my reason for choosing this book. But....Bernard Mac Laverty has written this book from the perspective of a female, Catherine, and on finishing this novel, a male will feel, rightly or wrongly, that he better knows the female mind. Very descriptive with great observation;-

"She noticed that her fists were clenched and she consciously relaxed them, turned her palms upward on her lap...more
Robert Strandquist
My rating of 3 should be a 4 but I simply could not come to terms with my personal bias of a male author writing intimately about a female protagonist especially regarding childbirth. Aside from this blindness on my part, MacLaverty's strength is so ably using stream-of-consciousness to capture the inherent confusion during intense moments with Catherine's life and mind. A particular moment is the novel's final one when Catherine's musical composition is performed by a live orchestra. Here merge...more
Hollis
One of those nice novels that gets shortlisted for the Booker but never seems to win it: I have to admit that I found it a bit dreary at times. The thing that irritated me slightly about the book was the writing style: to me, it read like a piece of writing by a graduate student trying to emulate Virginia Woolf. Like this. Like that. Two ideas, apparently not linked, but still somehow joined. Transubstantion. They did that at Sunday school, with the dusty pews and benches. Old Mrs McMarnagan, wi...more
Anne
Grace Notes was a good book but it jumped around in time a lot, in ways that I did not always enjoy. It turned out to be about postpartum depression as well as musical genius, which was very interesting. I'm glad I stuck it out to the end, which was very interesting, but it was hard for a while.
Leif
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julia
Grace Notes is the third book I've read recently that is recursive, jumping forward and back in time. Like the other two novels (all well written), when I finished Grace Notes I kept thinking about it, filling in the story and unwrapping it further.

It's not a warm book, and was truly chilly enough to make me put on a sweater as I read it. I'm not sure if it was just the atmosphere that left my fingertips cold. Perhaps the talk of music also drained the book of warmth, so much of it sounding wit...more
Sharon
I liked the first part of the book. It shows the changing culture of a staunch Catholic family in Northern Ireland and their daughter new ideals. She knew her parents would not approve of her lifestyle so chose to hide from them instead of communicate with them.

The second half of the book takes place before the first half and tells of all the things she couldn't tell her parents. There are similarities between Catherine and her mother but Catherine does not have her religion to guide her.

The f...more
Debra Albonaimi
I absolutely loved this novel!
In addition to the beautiful cover, a previous reader had underlined and written copious notes in its' margins. I wonder if he/she loved it as much as I did.
The story is about a young female composer who is a gifted composer and pianist. She thinks musically and hears music in everything - hence Grace Notes being the space between the notes that actually gives music its voice.
Believing in her creativity, she abandons the secure to compose; yeilding to both her need...more
Leigh
A beautiful and beautifully written novel about a musician and composer named Catherine McKenna. Her father's death precipitates a trip back to the town outside of Belfast where she grew up. The insights that occur to her there and when she returns to Glasgow to her work and her family create an interesting and complex character. The descriptions of how she writes music were very interesting. I'm not doing the novel justice - it was absorbing and excellent.
Anne
My friend's mom in Northern Ireland lent me this book to read. A grace note is a tiny note quickly played before another note.... hardly audible but nevertheless making a huge difference. Here's my review written when I had plenty of time to read, write, and work out daily at the local sports club -- oh yes, and play the piano: http://www.analyticalq.com/journal/j0... It was one of the first of many more fictional novels with a huge musical element....
Betty
Browsing in my own bookcases, I came across this work, which I must have bought over a decade ago as it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997. A beauiful read, artful writing about art without words: the composition of music. And the context of composing for a young Irish woman in Scotland. I highly recommend it.
Maya
Yawn-fest...
Mimi
What I loved about this book is the narrator's description about what it's like to write contemporary
classical music. It was a book I slowly grew to like, the first half takes place later in time than
the last half. The narrator is a woman in crisis, a well-developed character slowly revealed.
Caiti
Extraordinary book that filled my senses - astonishing insights from a man about a woman's experience. This is probably one of my favourite books and is beautifully composed, spare and descriptive in the right proportion and is evocative and moving without any sentimentality.
Asia
Starts off well, the past and present interwoven, a sense of mystery, a revealing. However, after the main reveal it
loses momentum. The main essence of the novel: a woman's relationship with music and its effect on her life and vice versa becomes dreary.
Joan
A powerful book about a young Irish woman, a composer living in Scotland, dealing with the death of her father and the birth of her daughter. The reader does a wonderful job especially with the climatic musical scene. Scottish Book of the Year.
Hannah
This is a gorgeous novel that takes the structure of a musical composition being written by the main character. You enter her northern Ireland family home, attend her father's funeral, daughter's birth, and BBC radio performance. This resonates.
Nikki Mcgee
I wanted to like this book but I just did not get it. Perhaps a harsh criticism for a book in which the lead has depression but it is just so grey, dull and emotionless . Perhaps that was a literary device but it did not work for me.

Nicole
This book had been sitting forgotten on my bookshelf for ten years or so - I found it during the move, and loved it! Beautifully written, a lovely story - I will look for more from this author.
Laura Reed
my friend elaine alled this a very quiet book
i agree.
the music in it is beautiful and some wonderful passages about the surprisingly fierce wonderful amazing passionate love for your newborn...
Rubyryan
I had to keep reminding myself that this was written by a man. He copes with his topics of women, the North and family strife with the utmost gentleness and sensitivity. very enjoyable.
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Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast (14.9.42) and lived there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland with his wife, Madeline, and four children. He has been a Medical Laboratory Technician, a mature student, a teacher of English and, for two years in the mid eighties, Writer-in-Residence at the University of Aberdeen.

After living for a time in Edinburgh and the Isle of Islay he now lives in Glasg...more
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